Dean's birthday passed us by without much fanfare this year, as he was on the other side of the world, and we didn't even have the day in common, as the 14th arrives on the 13th in New Zealand.
We've never been a "big birthday" family - never did the big birthday bash with party favors and clowns when he was little. There are many reasons why, I guess...poverty at first... then later because we are definitely not 24-hour party people...never really enjoyed being surrounded by lots of little boys hopped up on sugar...Dean always seemed to be a little too brainy and snarky (even as a tot) to really take such a thing seriously...and maybe also the time of year, three weeks after Christmas. Kids are always up for a party, but it's kind of hard to get parents back into the giving mood so soon after the big toy orgy, and practically the day that the Christmas credit card bill comes in the mail.
Dean's birthdays were usually a small family affair with his choice of dinner and cake and a couple of cool presents that he hadn't been able to cross off his "must have" list at Christmas.
I'm sure that like most mothers, I relive the actual birth day on his birthday, but although people will listen politely to these stories of bodies doing things that bodies, so obviously from the looks of them, are not designed to do, they don't really want to hear them, so suffice it to say that as a result of the birth experience, we determined that Dean would be an only child.
Instead, I chose to think of how having a baby has changed me.
Babies change everything. Yes, I know it's a cliche, but some things become cliches because there's just no better way of saying something true.
The big change that occurs is the realization that this little life depends on you for everything, and that all of a sudden, it doesn't matter if your jeans are so last week, or that you have spit-up in your hair, or even whether you remembered to brush your hair. You are all of a sudden lifted out of the frame, and in your place your baby has been plopped, and it takes up all the space once occupied by what you realize now are silly conceits.
From the time you are born, there is no one who is more important than yourself. This is a simple fact and a survival instinct, and becomes most maddeningly intense (for everyone else) in your teenage years, and only gradually subsides as the years go by. Thus, for me, a 22-year-old new mother, the change was like a St. Paul-size thunderclap. The world shifted beneath me, and so many things that I thought were givens at Christmas were now, three weeks later, completely meaningless. Now the world was made up of either things that were good for my son, or things that weren't. And things that threatened my son brought out a side of me I never knew existed before - the side that may look like a wounded hamster, but feels like a wounded puma. A foaming puma.
I remember choking back tears when a well-meaning preschool teacher mentioned something negative about Dean - not, mind you, that he was struggling with the concept of walking upright, or that he was showing signs of cat-torturing, but something as mild as bopping a kid for stealing his blocks. At first, I couldn't bear to hear a negative word about him. Believe me, that tendency has definitely faded since then, or I would never have made it through his middle school years.
But I am still, if no longer so protective of him, then very worried about him. But my worry is now tempered by the knowledge that he's a smart, witty, strong, good-looking kid that usually ends up on the sunny side of any situation. I don't have to fight for him anymore - he can stand up for himself now. And it's a good thing, because I'm pooped.